India's malls pull in people who aren't buying
By Amelia Gentleman International Herald Tribune

NEW DELHI A sleepy Tuesday afternoon at the Metropolitan Mall drew to a
close, and there were still no takers for the mini-bunjee jump. Rows of
arcade games stood deserted, their tinny theme tunes clashing with the
bland 1980s U.S. chart hits piped through the building in an attempt to
create ambience.

The shops in this flashy pantheon of international brands were mostly
empty - the security guards more visible than the customers. Visitors
were clustered instead in the American-themed cafes, studying menus
offering Mr. Fudgee brownies and Calorie-Heaven smoothies, stoically
enduring the headache-inducing acoustics of a public swimming pool.

The Metropolitan is the smartest of the many malls that have mushroomed
over the past two years in the satellite city of Gurgaon - a consumer
and business haven a few kilometers south of Delhi - but even newly
arrived western brand names are failing to lure customers.


"Property prices for the average person in the city and around are very
steep," said Rahoul Singh, a young architect from Delhi, who is building
three houses in Gurgaon. "Families live in pokey flats, with frequent
electricity failures. The mall represents an escape."

Despite the waning excitement in Delhi's suburbs, retail analysts remain
optimistic that the appetite for this form of shopping is just
developing. The statistics look positive: Although 300 million people
still survive on less than $1 a day, India's middle class is estimated
to number 250 million.